I suppose it all comes back to Tim Grunkeymeyer and the day he stole Straight Outta Compton from the Salem Mall Camelot. Maybe you’ve heard this story before, maybe you haven’t. Well once this tape was smuggled into GATE class at Concord Elementary, we’d play it on the communal six-headphone learning machine, along with my dubbed copy of As Nasty as They Wanna’ Be. Believe it or not, in sixth grade we’d play-act the parts of N.W.A. Since I was well versed in Eazy Duz It and most of E’s verses on the debut, I was that scandalous half-pint. Bert Hsung was DJ Yella, for obvious reasons (he couldn’t rap). Chris Woods was Ice Cube – as he was likely the wildest at the time – though he then had more affection for Ace Frehley. No one was Dre at the time. For some reason we didn’t realize his impact, his innovation -- for me it was not until the first time I smoked pot to The Chronic.
Tim? He was MC Ren. As a matter of fact, looking back on those times, Tim was obsessed with being Ren. There was something to his underdog status in the group that attracted Tim. The loner, the rebel, the logical thinker, not one to bust a cap unless there was reasonable cause. In retrospect it all fit. Tim was the first to try acid, was the first to hike into the woods for his spiritual well-being, the one that connected to the Indian vibrations of the Miami Valley, and the first to outcast himself from our gifted gang of wannabe misfits and the rest of the school environment. Tim was MC Ren, the guy that got no respect, but could care less about attention.
Kizz My Black Azz was the only piece of solo Ren (a six-song EP mind you) I’d ever listened to, and for good reason, as it’s the only piece of solo Ren worth having (did a recent survey and couldn’t find much). But that seems part of Ren’s mythology – to do one post-N.W.A. classic and be done with it. He did struggle through a lesser-than-his-equals solo career, on Priority no less, but his heart was never in it. Only here, in what is a forced exaggeration of his role in N.W.A. extended, does he have that originality in voice that expressed on those two influential gangster blueprints (never underestimate his role on Efil4zaggin). “Behind the Scenes” is almost too much to digest at first, as if he’s trying hard to outdo all the filth that came before. Incest? Gang Bang? Of course he joins in. Still his transition into solo artist seemed like a fruitful move on songs like “Final Frontier” (the best of the bunch) and “Right Up My Alley,” with his stern, calculated cadence and verbiage, he was built for late-night gangster tales, but tended to be more introspective, descriptive, and less hyperbolic like his counterparts. Matched with Bobby Ervin’s decidedly more live production, Ren was onto something, but perhaps it was tiring to write and perform an entire album of material without a gang to roll with and bounce off of? His subsequent releases, while maintaining a modicum of success for Ren, suffered because of this. All threatening monotone and no fireworks. Bound for a comeback? I at least wouldn’t balk at Dre giving him his own song on Detox. Tim would love it.